Author: Jason Deign, Solarplaza
Sterling & Wilson is proving Indian solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) has come of age as it dominates local markets and seeks expansion overseas.
The company, which carries out solar EPC work alongside a wide range of mainstream electrical and mechanical services, is set to complete up to 700 MW of projects this financial year and has been named one of the top 10 EPCs worldwide.
In addition to the 700 MW the company expects to complete in India by financial year-end in March 2016, up from a previous record of 140 MW in 2014, Sterling & Wilson has a pipeline of up to 300 MW of projects outside India.
As a result, the company could become India’s first gigawatt-scale PV EPC player this financial year, said Vishwanathan Iyer, general manager for business development within the company’s solar unit.
In India, Sterling & Wilson has benefited from being a preferred contractor for two of the world’s largest solar developers - SunEdison and First Solar.
The EPC is also increasingly being selected by global funds looking to invest in India’s booming renewable energy sector.
For these customers, the company offers everything up to a full package of planning, design, construction and even post-commissioning operations and maintenance, and can manage portfolios of over 1000 MW each year.
A key selling point for the company, he said, is Sterling & Wilson’s ability to “be agile and flexible on the ground.”
Leaning on the government and supply chain relationships already in place across the rest of its business, Sterling & Wilson’s solar arm can cut through red tape and commission plants in significantly less time than competitors.
A recent 50 MW project in Tamil Nadu, for example, was completed within just 20 weeks, roughly two-thirds of the standard time frame for commissioning.
The scale of work it has in hand makes Sterling & Wilson one of the largest PV equipment procurers in India, with “at least a few hundred megawatt of ongoing supplies,” said Iyer. “That gives us significant leverage as a player.”
This supply chain serves not only Sterling & Wilson’s Indian projects but also a growing volume of work abroad. The company’s foreign operations are predominantly focused on the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
All components go through a rigorous quality control process. So while Sterling & Wilson is able to deliver projects fast, and cost-effectively enough to offer good returns in India’s cutthroat solar market, there is no compromise on quality.
And the company has achieved its current market position without the kind of government support that props up Chinese or US players.
It is an indication of just how far the Indian PV market has come since the early days of India’s National Solar Mission, Iyer said.
He credits a slump in the market ahead of the election of solar-friendly Narendra Modi with forcing Indian EPCs to seek new markets and pick up the experience needed to grow rapidly in the current environment.
“In 2013, EPCs were struggling for domestic opportunities,” he said. “Now we have landed a large development pipeline in India because we have been able to replicate the same standard that we have been applying elsewhere for the last two years.”